With their ever-falling needles and dense shade cover, pine trees present a challenge when you attempt to plant other vegetation beneath them. Most plants are smothered or can’t adequately root because of the dense needles at the base of the tree, or wither from lack of sunlight. But there are a variety of herbs, bulbs, perennials, shrubs and groundcovers in flowering and non-flowering options that thrive under pine trees.
Bulbs that grow best under pine trees include varieties of irises, daffodils and lilies.
The most common iris varieties include the California Iris and Pacific Coast hybrids. Both the California Iris and Pacific Coast hybrids grow about knee-high and produce purple, blue, white or cream-colored flowers in the spring. They require a small amount of water during the summer months and grow best in hardiness zones 4 to 24.
All varieties of daffodils grow well under pine trees from all hardiness zones. Most produce flowers of yellow, orange, white or cream from February to April. Plants die back and don’t need water during the summer.
Most varieties of lilies grow well under pine trees in all zones. Lily colors vary greatly and plants die back after blooming season.
Perennials, Shrubs and Herbs
Flowering perennials that thrive under pine trees include Santa Barbara daisies, astilbes, red valerian, Japanese anemones and coral bells. Shrubs and herbs include catmint, autumn sage, rosemary, ceanothus, azaleas, rhododendrons and Viburnum davidii.
Santa Barbara daisies produce white or pink flowers in spring through fall and grow up to 20 inches tall. Red valerian blooms from spring to summer and grows 3 inches tall. Coral bells have dark green to purplish-red rounded leaves with coral pink, red or white flowers in spring or summer.
Catmint grows low to the ground and produces 2-foot mounds of lavender-blue flowers in late spring to early summer. Autumn sage is a shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet and produces red, salmon or purple flowers from late spring to summer. Rosemary can grow up to 6 feet tall for upright types, or up to 2 feet tall for prostrate forms. The shrub has aromatic leaves and produces small clusters of lavender-blue flowers in late winter or early spring.
Ground Covers and Grasses
Ground covers and grasses that grow well under a pine tree include bamboo, blue fescue, dusty miller, fountain grass and St. John’s wort.
Bamboo grows 2 to 3 feet hall with dense green foliage that has white edges during the fall. It requires watering during growth spurts and can be very invasive.
Blue fescue consists of clumps of blue-gray colored foliage that grow to about ankle high. Dusty miller grows up to 2 feet tall and consists of woolly white leaves. Fountain grass grows in 3- to 4-foot high clumps and has graceful, flowing, bright-green foliage that is topped with pink flower plumes. St. John’s wort is an evergreen groundcover that produces yellow flowers in the summer.